Do Whales Have Teeth?

Believe it or not, some species of whale do in fact have teeth.

All whales are actually broken down into two categories or suborders which are known as the toothed whale and baleen whale suborders.

Toothed whales as the name suggest have teeth which they use to attack, capture and in some cases chew or tear apart their prey so that they can swallow and better digest their food.

Aside from whales all species of dolphin and porpoise also belong to the toothed whale suborder.

While all toothed whales are born with teeth not all species are known to chew their food; some use their teeth only to bite and grab their prey so that it can’t escape, but will end up swallowing their prey whole, while other toothed whale species appear to have little or no use for their teeth other than as a way to show dominance towards other whales, especially during mating periods.

The number of teeth a toothed whale has can vary greatly depending on  the species.

Some whales (such as the narwhal) have only one or two teeth while others (such as the short-beaked common dolphin) have as many as 240 teeth or more.

And certain species of toothed whales (such as the sperm whale) may only have rows of teeth on their lower jaw and none on their upper jaw.

Unlike the toothed whale species baleen whales do not have teeth but instead are born with baleen plates that have bristles attached to them.

The bristles of baleen whales are often said to resemble the teeth found on a comb and can be very thin and fine depending on the species of whale.

These whales capture their prey by swimming towards it with their mouth open engulfing large amounts of water along with fish, krill, squid and any other prey they are hunting.

They then expel the water out of their mouth using their tongue while leaving their prey trapped inside their baleen bristles.

The bristles act like a filter allowing water to pass through without letting their prey escape.

The bristles can also be thought of as a fence that keeps small animals from escaping but allows air to move in and out of it.

Because baleen whales do not have teeth they usually end up swallowing their prey whole and almost always search for small prey that is easily digestible such as krill (in most cases their prey measures less than 2 inches in size).

Baleen whales are commonly refereed filter feeders because of the way they capture prey such as fish and krill and trap them in their baleen bristles while allowing water and other small sea sediments to escape through their baleen bristles, much like a filter.

Regardless of the species most whales are unable to swallow large prey due to their small throats and almost all species are incapable of eating other marine mammals with the exception of the killer whale and false killer, therefore the likelihood of a human ever being consumed by a whale remains extremely low.

In fact one of the few species believed to be able to swallow a human is the sperm whale, which hunts giant squid that can measure in excess of 40 ft. long, however these marine mammals typically hunt for their food thousands of feet below the surface, which is significantly deeper than a human is able to dive (without special equipment most people are unlikely to dive below 30 ft.).